Fantasy Hockey preview: 20 Questions
What better way to get acquainted with the experts who will be bringing you fantasy hockey coverage here at ESPN.com, than to pick their brains on some important (and unimportant) fantasy (or nonsensical) questions?
Let's play 20 questions.Q: Who is a player you think is on the waiver wire in 12-team leagues right now that is going to be on rosters in all of them by the end of October?
Pete Becker: An Oiler to be named later. Robert Nilsson may have made his way onto rosters in a league that deep, so if he's not available, Rob Schremp is my guy. Then again, he was last year, but I'm not going to fault him for my being one year early.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Cory Murphy. Granted, he was picked in my draft on Tuesday, but when he was, almost every other owner said, "Who?!" In three weeks you'll know the answer. The Panthers are serious about him as their power-play QB, and that's not a bad power-play unit.
John Pereira: Everyone is talking about the other rookie defenseman named Erik Johnson, but Jack is one to watch as well. Not the Jack Johnson known for his catchy songs and playing his acoustic guitar barefooted, but the one who will partner with Rob Blake in Los Angeles. He's a former No. 3 overall draft pick with a good point shot and a nose for trouble, which makes him a possible solid source of penalties in minutes (PIMs) and points.
Victoria Matiash<: Antoine Vermette. With the departure of Peter Schaefer, Vermette is ready to take over his place on Ottawa's second scoring line. Watch him get plenty of action with the man advantage as well. The Senators aren't only about Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson, as some would have you believe.
Sean Allen: Andrei Kostitsyn is who I am hanging my hat on this season. The Canadiens have been cautious with his development and he is now ready to break out like a monkey in a piņata. The Habs need a flashy scoring leader on offense, now that Alexei Kovalev is completely bored of the NHL.Q: Of all the goaltenders that are clearly a backup on their NHL teams right now, who do you roster in hopes that they win a starting role?
Pete Becker: Jimmy Howard. He's got good odds on a great job. If you own Hasek and you don't own Howard, you're better off trading for him now than when the Dominator goes down.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Ilya Bryzgalov. The Ducks can't possibly be that stupid as to keep him toiling in a reserve role a second straight year, can they? Jonas Hiller can be an adequate backup, and the Ducks could probably use a tad more depth on the wings.
John Pereira: Pekka Rinne in Nashville has a good chance of becoming a full-time starter this season. I'm not sold on Chris Mason finally finding his game at the age of 30. Career swings like that are few and far between and Rinne is young and talented enough to take the job.
Victoria Matiash: The Canadiens aren't going to hold back on Carey Price. If he's NHL-ready, Cristobal Huet will be placed on the trading block. It'll happen.
Sean Allen: Karri Ramo only has to wait for coach John Tortorella to flip his lid (so about three games) before he'll get a shot. Ramo has the stuff; he just needs to adjust to the NHL. Trial by fire can work wonders.Q: Who goes home with the Calder Trophy this season? Are they the rookie with the most fantasy value?
Pete Becker: Erik Johnson. And no. Nicklas Backstrom will put up way more offense by virtue of his teammates. But Erik Johnson will win the Calder based on his individual skills and his tremendous defense, the latter of which is not terribly useful to fantasy players while he's stuck on a team that won't be able to help being outscored.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Nicklas Backstrom. No, not the Wild goaltender, the Capitals center. He won't kick off the season paired with Alexander Ovechkin, but working with Alexander Semin isn't a bad gig, either. The plus/minus might hurt for fantasy, but I still bet he leads the freshman class.
John Pereira: Young players who can step in and impact a game are few and far between; Erik Johnson is one of those players. Although he doesn't hit quite as hard as Dion Phaneuf does, I expect him to have a similar rookie-season impact for the Blues.
Victoria Matiash: Nicklas Backstrom is going to get plenty of chances to set up Alexander Ovechkin in Washington. Watch the points accumulate. He'll win the Calder and prove his worth fantasy-wise with regular trips to the box as well.
Sean Allen: Bobby Ryan is going to turn heads all season in Anaheim. He's blown away the competition in the OHL, and guess what he did in a brief tour with the AHL's Portland Pirates? Nine points in eight games. Ryan is set to line up with Ryan Getzlaf and Todd Bertuzzi. He has his eyes on the Calder, and, yes, he will be the most valuable rookie in fantasy.Q: Ryan Whitney or Sergei Gonchar? Why?
Pete Becker: Whitney. Since we're considering them both on the same level, go with the guy with the higher upside. We know what Gonchar's ceiling is; we haven't seen Whitney's yet. It's not that big a risk to take for the potential reward.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Sergei Gonchar. When you pay a guy the kind of money he's getting, you're not going to cut his role when he's not under-performing. He managed a whopping 48 power-play points last year; Ryan Whitney (33) wasn't close. Gonchar fires more shots, too (191-129).
John Pereira: Gonchar's history as an elite defenseman is on his side, and I'd like to see Whitney do it once more before I invest too heavily.
Victoria Matiash: Sergei Gonchar. When flipping a coin, experience trumps youth every time. Plus Ryan Whitney isn't contract-hungry anymore. The Penguins just signed him for a chunk of cash for six years.
Sean Allen: Still Gonchar for one more season. We'll get to see flashes of Whitney's potential, but while Gonchar is still a Penguin, Whitney is second fiddle.Q: Martin Brodeur or Roberto Luongo? Why?
Pete Becker: Brodeur. If you have to ask, you haven't been paying much attention for the past, oh, decade and a half.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: I've had the pleasure of extensively watching both these guys in person -- Brodeur in New Jersey, Luongo in Florida -- and have long been impressed with Brodeur's excellence regardless of circumstance. The wins will be down -- well, duh -- and you can call me a homer all you want, but Marty's my man until he proves otherwise.
John Pereira: Luongo. His team has changed very little this season. New Jersey, on the other hand, lost its best defenseman and has a new coach. Luongo is the safer bet.
Victoria Matiash: Brodeur. I'll believe Vancouver's newly-improved defense when I see it. And Brodeur is still the shutout king.
Sean Allen: There have been several seasons in which I have looked at Brodeur and the Devils and said to myself, "someone else will be the best fantasy goaltender this year." Every time, Brodeur proves me wrong. I won't be betting against him again anytime soon.Q: Should fantasy leagues consider doing away with PIMs as a standard category in the age of the "new" NHL?
Pete Becker: No, not unless you come up with a suitable alternate, like hits. An NHL team with no grit will not win the Stanley Cup. Anaheim had eight guys with at least 80 regular-season PIMs, and would have had nine if not for Chris Pronger missing 16 games. Carolina only had two, but one of them -- Mike Commodore -- was regarded as the emotional leader on the team, and it wasn't for his scoring prowess. PIMs are a way to force fantasy teams to pay attention to the physical game, and as long as that's true of the NHL, it needs to be true of fantasy.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Oh, no no NO! You kill the power forward that way! Granted, it's seemingly a dying breed, but if you make it official, how else does Todd Bertuzzi or Keith Tkachuk warrant your attention? Also, dropping PIMs could really polarize the defense position. Only a dozen or so D-men are true elite scorers; PIMs is what deepens the pool by bolstering the values of guys like Kevin Bieksa, Zdeno Chara and Paul Mara.
John Pereira: Never. Should baseball leagues do away with home runs because players aren't hitting as many as they did five years ago?
Victoria Matiash: Would you take the punching out of boxing? PIMs are there to represent the grit and toughness that NHL teams have to have to succeed.
Sean Allen: Yes. It's something Pete Becker's postulated before, but I think hits, rather than PIMs, would better reflect who actually has "real" value to his NHL team. Or maybe a new category, hits+PIMs. Either way, I'm sick of guys like Ben Eager being valuable in fantasy while Dustin Brown is waiver-wire fodder.Q: For now PIMs are here, what strategy do you advocate for collecting them?
Pete Becker: Use your fourth, fifth and sixth defensemen to troll for PIMs and give priority to well-rounded forwards like Nathan Horton or Marc Savard. PIMs specialists at forward are likely to put you behind in scoring, and if you grab one of the studs and they get injured, you're done for. Spread it out and use your depth.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Well, for one, don't overlook the D-men. It's almost a requirement these days you get one of the 100-PIM defensemen who scores, since there's no shortage. I'd also advocate a midround pick on a PIM hog -- Sean Avery or Chris Neil in particular -- if only because you'd be surprised, there will be times you dislike a player's matchups and can spot one in for him. Good, cheap way to build up your category without killing your offense.
John Pereira: Players with a balance of scoring potential and a mean temper. Chris Neil in Ottawa is the perfect example; the days of the enforcer are done.
Victoria Matiash: Forget about looking for an enforcer. Sheldon Souray netted 64 points and 135 PIMs last year. A couple of well-rounded players carry greater value than a couple of one-dimensional players.
Sean Allen: If I can't get Brenden Morrow, Chris Neil or Sean Avery (preferably all three), then I use goons to spot in whenever they play a division rival. Toronto versus Ottawa; I'll pick up Brian McGrattan and Wade Belak. Philly versus Pittsburgh; where are Ben Eager and Georges Laraque?Q: If you have room for one of Scott Niedermayer, Peter Forsberg or Teemu Selanne, who is on your roster?
Pete Becker: Forsberg. If Ottawa can convince him to lace up, he has instant first-round value, and that's way too tempting. I think he's more likely to come back than Selanne or Niedermayer, both of whom can go out as champs.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Niedermayer. He's being ridiculous; he has two more years on his contract and he's only 34. Do you think he's really retiring? I don't. Besides, it's a lot harder to find quality defensemen on your league's waiver wire than it is a forward who can contribute.
John Pereira: Niedermayer. Why not return for another run at the Cup while playing with your brother? Forsberg can't even seem to get a team interested in signing him at this point.
Victoria Matiash: Selanne seems the most likely to return, and brings the most bang for your fantasy buck.
Sean Allen: Selanne finished as a top-five fantasy commodity last season. If I am going to waste a bench spot speculating on someone returning, it's going to be the guy who can have the biggest impact.Q: How many goals does Petr Sykora score this season?
Pete Becker: An actual, live penguin plucked from the Antarctic could probably score a goal playing with Sid the Kid. I'll give Sykora 32, because I don't think he spends the entire season on the top line. Evgeni Malkin's a pretty solid consolation prize for him, though.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Thirty-one, his age exactly come Nov. 19. Not to say you bust your budget to get Sykora, but note that Mark Recchi had 24 goals and 68 points working with Sidney Crosby last season, and he's nearly a decade older. Sykora's one of those great posthype sleeper types.
John Pereira: Thirty-plus goals this season. That's what Sid the Kid can do for a linemate. I made sure to draft Sykora this year.
Victoria Matiash: Thirty ... but he'll also earn 40 assists.
Sean Allen: Sykora will be the first proven goal-scorer with the opportunity to wing The Crosby Show for as long as he keeps scoring. Put me down for 40, with upside for more if he and Sidney have chemistry. And, yes, I'm serious.Q: Daniel Sedin or Henrik Sedin? Or is it bad fantasy form not to have both?
Pete Becker: Henrik. He's the guy who makes things happen, and he comes with PIMs to boot. If I have one and not the other, I certainly explore how my fellow Sedin owner feels about that second question and take advantage of it to the fullest. I don't like paying for the name on the back of the jersey. It's the production that matters.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: I say bad fantasy form to not have both, if only because each can help you a great deal, but for my auction league, which drafted Tuesday, I had Daniel about $5 ahead of Henrik, because he's the one who scores. He also has a greater chance of being overpriced in drafts, though.
John Pereira: It's obviously bad form to not own both, as I did in several leagues last season. But if you take one, take Daniel, if only for the reason that he plays left wing and not the deep center position.
Victoria Matiash: Daniel. Although he racked up 71 assists, Henrik scored only 10 goals last year. Daniel is more of a well-rounded player.
Sean Allen: I'd take Henrik for his extra contribution to the PIMs category, but man does it ache when you don't have both.Q: Who wins the scoring title this season?
Pete Becker: Saying Sidney is too easy. I'll go with Jaromir Jagr because I'm excited to see him on his new line with Scott Gomez, who finally gets to flash his skills, in his prime, now that he's out of hockey hell. (I have issues with the Devils, on whom I blame slow and painful death of hockey leading up to the lockout.) Add Martin Straka to that line, and you have perhaps the best line in hockey, pound-for-pound. I'll still take Crosby first overall, of course, because he's the complete package, but the Art Ross will go to a healthy, happy Jagr; he'll be playing on a line on which all three guys make each other better.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Sidney Crosby -- another "well, duh." The only thing I can say to this is talk about the "Wayne Gretzky rule" being applied to Crosby's goals and assists, it's hogwash, at least for this year. So he leads the league by 20, so what? Let his owner have his fun.
Victoria Matiash: Sidney Crosby ... by at least 15 points
Sean Allen: Yeah, there is no question about picking Sid for this honor, but Heatley will be closer than a lot of folks think, thanks to a healthy Jason Spezza.Q: How long before Nicklas Backstrom or Michael Nylander is centering Alexander Ovechkin?
Pete Becker: By the time you have to set your clocks back an hour. I guess if you live in Arizona, that means you draft Viktor Kozlov, but then again, if you live in Arizona, you're used to your hockey team not being very good.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: I've already taken awhile to submit these answers, so I needed to go back and check The Washington Post to make sure the Caps' line assignments hadn't changed in the meantime. Guess that means I'm not a believer in Viktor Kozlov. No shock; he's another guy I watched in Florida and one who underwhelmed me. I think it's Nylander who gets the call in his stead, though. That's a lot of pressure for a rookie so soon in the game.
John Pereira: Nylander will center Ovechkin this season. Don't get me wrong, Backstrom will be the better player in time, but the Capitals need production from Ovechkin now. Nylander will help with that.
Victoria Matiash: Backstrom will be there immediately. NHL teams love to market their rookies. Michael Nylander will skate on the second line with Alexander Semin.
Sean Allen: What time is it right now?Q: Who takes home Lord Stanley's Mug?
Pete Becker: It pains me to say it, but I think this is Ottawa's year. Sens-Sharks in the finals.
John Pereira: Isn't it still a little early to make such a bold prediction? I like San Jose and Pittsburgh.
Victoria Matiash: The Ottawa Senators were the best team in the league last year and they came extremely close. The loss of Schaefer, Mike Comrie and Tom Preissing won't make a difference. The extra playoff experience will.
Sean Allen: Rangers over the Canucks.
Pete Becker: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
Tristan H. Cockcroft: I'm a bigger believer in Gaborik than Havlat. Did you know Gaborik had 26 goals and 50 points in 41 games from Jan. 1 forward last year? He had nice chemistry with Pavol Demitra. That kind of good feeling should roll right into this season.
John Pereira: No, both have proven to be too fragile to be counted on for a full season; nothing they have done over the offseason convinces me that will change this year. They're great fantasy assets if you can get them for cheap though.
Victoria Matiash: Havlat will benefit from playing with rookie Jonathan Toews. Gaborik will profit from a much-improved Minnesota offense. Best of luck to both, but with their history of injuries, I'm not touching either one.
Sean Allen: I'm buying into Gaborik's reported change to his offseason workout regimen. I think he can keep it together for a full campaign. Havlat is currently nursing a sore groin; enough said.Q: Shouldn't the Kings or Ducks have signed Steve Thomas to a deal before playing this weekend's games in England?
Pete Becker: No. Play the guys who'll actually help you this season.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: But the St. Michael's Buzzers need his guidance! Seriously, though, I find it hard not to joke about those games. During college football and NFL games? Come on! Plus, it's doing nothing but wreaking havoc with my fantasy teams' Week 1 scheduling. We debated for 15 minutes Tuesday night about those games, and it was already close to midnight...
John Pereira: Of course, why not sign the only man who could feasibly play in the game and was also born in Britain. It would have been a great marketing tool, even if he only sat on the end of the bench then was cut the next day.
Victoria Matiash: It doesn't matter, fantasy-wise or otherwise.
Sean Allen: England?!? I mean really, how many other countries in Europe have countless players in the NHL. The U.K. has Owen Nolan and that's it. And he plays for Team Canada in international events. What a silly place for the NHL to stage international games. Where's Byron Dafoe when we need him? Heck yeah, they should have signed Stumpy.Q: If you could sit down with all of his fantasy owners and explain face-to-face why they should trade away a certain player, who would that player be? (i.e. Your biggest bust of the season&)
Pete Becker: Daymond Langkow. I don't like players who are so dependant on their linemate for their fantasy value.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Vyacheslav "Slava" Kozlov. Not that he's a bold statement to make, but he's representative of one of the two biggest pitfalls that catches fantasy owners year after year; be wary of playmakers coming off big years if there's a threat to their line assignment this season. Todd White, Brett Sterling, Bryan Little and Eric Perrin threaten the chemistry in Atlanta's top six. Ugh.
John Pereira: Anyone who currently owns Sheldon Souray should look at trading him away as quick as possible. He's missing Andrei Markov to get him the puck on the power play, and had a terrible plus/minus on a decent club last season, but the Oilers will be even worse. He'll look silly on the fast ice in Edmonton.
Victoria Matiash: Alexei Kovalev is extremely talented and has a massive attitude problem. Watch for his demotion to the fourth line when he starts whining.Q: Which nonplayoff team from a season ago is a lock for the postseason this year? Extra points for picking a team that didn't almost make it (Toronto, Montreal, Colorado).
Tristan H. Cockcroft: I see the East as more wide-open at the bottom than the West, and while the Carolina Hurricanes seem an obvious pick to me, I'm going with the Washington Capitals. There's enough decent up-and-coming talent there to squeak in the back end.
Victoria Matiash: Boston. Manny Fernandez brings just enough stability for the Bruins to squeak in.
Sean Allen: I'll go out on a limb here and say I won't be knocked out of my seat if the Blues make the postseason. I know! Crazy! But hey, Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight, Brad Boyes, Erik Johnson, Eric Brewer, Manny Legace, Hannu Toivonen... It's an OK squad.Q: Who scores the most goals this season?
Pete Becker: Alexander Ovechkin, thanks to his selection of playmaking centers. Ilya Kovalchuk could give him a run for his money, but I didn't like what I saw out of Kovalchuk last season. Quitter.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Alexander Ovechkin, and that's probably why I picked the Capitals in the previous question. The Mario Lemieux comparisons are legit.
John Pereira: If Spezza is healthy, Heatley will score 60. He's in the final year of his current contract, and we all know how that works don't we?
Victoria Matiash: Dany Heatley. Playing with Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, he's going to score well more than 50.
Sean Allen: I've already said I expect a healthy Gaborik. And a healthy Gaborik will score more than 50.Q: Who wins this year's "Sean Avery Award" for best combination of PIMs and points? And yes, you can answer "Sean Avery"...
Pete Becker: Chris Neil. Once they name an award after you, you're pretty much done.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: The truth is I don't even like Avery that much! I'd have tabbed Sheldon Souray for his 64 points, 135 PIMs. To me, the 100-PIM, 80-point player is the better pick, which is why Marc Savard gets my vote. Tremendous all-around contributor, and a virtual lock for both.
John Pereira: &and the winner of the 2007-2008 "Sean Avery Award" is&Chris Neil!
Victoria Matiash: Sean Avery, but Sheldon Souray will come close.
Sean Allen: I like Brenden Morrow to bounce back and give us the best power forward numbers this season.Q: If you had two sentences to express something very important to all fantasy hockey players, as this season is ready to begin, what would those two sentences be?
Pete Becker: Linemates are everything, so keep on top of the depth charts. Like closers in baseball, a player's value can increase or decrease 10-fold on his coach's whim, so be aware and ready to react.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Drop back four questions and I bet I get asked "what's your other pitfall that catches fantasy owners?" Perfect time to answer it: Putting much draft stock in the plus/minus category. In 2005-06, Andrej Meszaros (+34), Simon Gagne (+31) and Brenden Morrow (+30) were each overrated for their contributions in the category; uh, didn't work out so well last season. Plus/minus is the most misleading of the roto categories.
John Pereira: If you have two good goaltenders, you're set. In your typical league they account for nearly 40 percent of your stats and since there are so few of them compared to other positions you need to invest to protect those categories.
Victoria Matiash: If you can't get Sidney Crosby, pick a goalie first (there's a plethora of talented forwards, but only a few elite netminders). Secondly, the goon is dead; why dump points for PIMs when a few aggressive scorers will get you both?
Sean Allen: First off, stick around with us here at ESPN.com; we'll make sure you know what you need to know to win. Finally, if you have a superstar you are confident will do well this season, go after his linemates (in my league in which I picked Jagr, I drafted Marcel Hossa.
Pete Becker, Tristan H. Cockcroft, John Pereira Victoria Matiash and Sean Allen anchor the daily fantasy hockey coverage on ESPN.com.
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